“Hawaiian Birdman Wins His Pilot License.”
“There will soon be a new sound to mingle with the music of the plaintive ukuleles in Hawaiʻi. It will be the roar of an aeroplane motor, for Hawaiʻi now has its first and only aviator”.
“(H)e made his ‘solo’ flight (on October 2, 1916) for his official pilot’s license, which is issued by the Aero Club of America. The flight was successfully executed in every respect and he was given his diploma.” (Pilot Certificate Granted: No. 600) (Buffalo Evening News; Star Bulletin, October 20, 1916)
He “travelled 6,000-miles from Honolulu to make the necessary solo flight at the Curtiss training field, Buffalo, NY, recently. His name is Sen Yet Young.” (He was also known as Yang Xianyi.)
Born in the Islands (1891,) he studied and graduated from ʻIolani School and received his higher education at College of Hawaiʻi (later named University of Hawaiʻi) and Harry University of California, majoring in mechanical engineering.
After his graduation, he was enrolled at the Curtiss Aviation School in New York for further study of aircraft manufacturing and driving skills and got the pilot’s license (for land and seaplane.) (Zhongshan Municipal Government)
“As the only Hawaiian who has mastered the art of flight, he remained to study the mechanics of the aeroplane at the Curtiss factory, before returning to Honolulu, where he will have to act as his own mechanician.” (Popular Mechanics, February 1917)
“Air Pilot Young’s father (Yang Zhukun (aka Young Jeu Kwun & Young Ahin)) is the owner of a fish farm that is one of the attractions for visitors at Honolulu. He grows all sorts of fish that are common to those visitors. He also has 4 large sugar plantations and deals in real estate.”
“If there is one thing that Mr Young takes more pride in than his flying school diploma – which he traveled more than 6,000 miles to get, it is the fact that he is an American citizen.” (Buffalo Evening News; Star Bulleting, October 20, 1916)
While proud of his accomplishment of becoming Hawaiʻi’s first licensed flyer, it was subsequent actions that earned Sen Yet Young even higher honors.
Young’s father was a friend of Sun Yat-sen. As a youth, Young listened to Sun Yat-sen talk about the revolution in China and was impressed and decided to join. (Lum)
After a successful coup in 1911, Sun Yat-sen served as the provisional president of the Republic of China (January 1, 1912.) With varying changes in leadership, Sun Yat-sen and others sought national unity which could only be brought about by the abolishment of warlordism.
Shortly after attaining his pilot’s license, Sen Yet Young went to China and joined the Revolutionary Alliance.
In the revolutionary cause of overthrowing the Qing dynasty, Sun Yat-sen saw that the aircraft would become a new type of military weapon and be greatly helpful to the nation’s revolution. Seeing the lack of effective weapons, Sun Yat-sen coined the phrase, ‘Aviation saves the nation.’ (Pike)
In 1917, Sen Yet Young organized the airplane fleet, and went back to Guangzhou to support the campaign to protect the republic. He was appointed Captain of the airplane fleet by Sun Yat-sen.
A landmark event during this campaign was the first use of military air power by the fledgling Guangdong Air Force. On the night of the Mid-autumn Festival (September 26) in 1920, Sen Yet Young and another flew two planes over the warlord headquarters in Guangzhou and released three crude bombs.
The display of air power played a role in hastening warlord departure from Guangzhou by early October. As the warlord’s army retreated westward, Sun supporters pressed their air superiority by strafing from above.
Young later went to Hawaiʻi and the continental US to raise funds from the overseas Chinese and purchased 12 airplanes, including 4 donated by his father. He also actively campaigned for the Kuomintang and raised funds for flying lessons for the young Chinese he recruited. (Lai)
In December, he was commissioned by Sun Yat-sen as Head of Aviation Bureau and also the director of Guangdong Aircraft Manufactory in Guangzhou.
On July 1923, the factory made China’s first self-designed military airplane, named “Rosamonde,” after Sun Yat-sen’s wife’s (Soong Ching Ling) English name. (Zhongshan Municipal Government)
Sen Yet Young, with Chinese-built and foreign-built airplanes, helped the Nationalist government beat the warlords in the Kwantung province.
In order to destroy the Huizhou City Wall, he went to Meihu of Boluo to check bomb facilities, and died September 20, 1923 from an accidental explosion at the age of 32. (Zhongshan Municipal Government) The Kuomintang government later designated that date as Air Force Day. (Lai)
Sun Yat-sen (also known as Sun Wen) conferred on him posthumously the rank of general and also wrote a scroll, “To the family members of Yang Xian-yi; Aim High to Reach the Heaven; Sun Wen” (Lum)
Young (Yang Xianyi) is buried at Huanghuagang Mausoleum to commemorate the 72 martyrs who died in Guangzhou uprising on April 27, 1911. (It was later determined that there were 86 martyrs, including 30 who were overseas Chinese, including Yang Xianyi.) (72 Martyrs)
Sun Yat-sen called him, the ‘Father of China’s air force.’ (Lum) A middle school was named after him, the Xianyi Middle School, which was renamed No 2 Middle School during the “cultural revolution.” In 1980 the school won back its original name and Young’s son came over from the US to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony. (China Daily)